Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Putting words together

When Mozart was very young, someone (certainly an adult) asked the precocious child-genius how he wrote music. “I just use notes that sound happy together.” Or it was something like that. I can’t find the book that might have the quote I’m remembering.

At its heart, that’s what we do with our writing — or what we try to do.

So what constitutes words that are “happy together”, as Mozart might put it? If I knew, I wouldn’t be here writing this. I’d be writing my next award-winning novel. That’s the mystery and the beauty of the creative process. There are an infinite way to put components together in any artistic endeavor, and writing is perhaps the most flexible of all.

What is the secret, then, of happy words? Does anyone have it? Has anyone ever had it?

When I finally give a manuscript over to an editor, I’m always happy with it, but I’m often not sure, and as I go along in my writing career, I do believe I’m becoming less sure. Part of it is the horrible realization that there are some terribly unhappy words that have been rammed together on occasion in every one of my novels. Or maybe it’s that they seemed happy at the time I put them together, but somehow, between the dark pages of the book, they’ve realized they aren’t happy and gotten a divorce when I wasn’t looking. I only discover the problem when I’m in the middle of the suspect passage at a public reading. I’ve even found myself editing on the fly to expunge the unhappy group before they're inflicted on my unsuspecting listeners.

The really frightening thing is that at some point, I was happy with the miscreant sentences — so were my editor and my publisher.

What happened in the interim? Should writing be allowed to age like a fine wine before it’s published? Is this just a byproduct of my incremental improvement at my craft? Maybe I just wasn’t picky enough when I was putting my words together. Maybe I was writing too fast to notice these pesky details.

Putting words together leaves me filled with so many doubts.


John Corrigan said...

"Putting words together" leaves every writer feeling those very same doubts. Great post. It resonates for all of us.

Vicki Delany said...

In terms of 'ageing' like a fine wine, I believe in putting a book aside after you've finished it for about 6 weeks. Then go back and edit it again. The time allows enough distance that some things do jump out.

Rick Blechta said...

Um, that's what I meant. ;)

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